May only truth be spoken, and only truth be heard. Amen.
This morning I want to focus on the Lord’s prayer text. Also known as the Abba prayer. And by Abba, we mean Householder, the one who makes sure that all in the household have enough.
And then I want to take it beyond the prayer itself into the next section, where Jesus talks in the parable about “brash asking”.
The brilliant Jesus historian John Dominic Crossan, has done immense research on this prayer and about who and what Jesus was about historically. I will be using him as an influence during this whole reflection.
Most of us in this room come from a white settler background. So, many of us have what’s called a pioneer spirit, or work ethic, formed in part by necessity, and also be the ethos of former American presidents, like Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, who believed that “God helps those who help themselves.” Sometimes, even today, people still believe this saying is actual scripture.
It is not.
We see this belief in self sufficiency, in terribly sad situations like what happened to old age pensioners in the 2008 recession. In the United States, the rate of seniors who experience hunger on a daily basis has risen by 45% due to the ’08 recession, and… that demographic is often the least likely to ask for help. We’ve all grown up in a culture that judges us for needing any help, and where we are always praised for our self sufficiency.
I think our pride in this area is in part what caused our white settler ancestors not to ask for more wisdom from the people who were already here by at least 10,000 years. How different things would have been if our ancestors had sought wisdom and welcome, from indigenous people.
Prior to Jesus’ time by a couple hundred years, there was a really interesting group of philosophers called the Cynics. Some historians speculate whether Jesus may have even heard of the Cynics and what they were about, even in his little peasant farming village of Nazareth.
The most famous of all stories about the Cynics is the story of Diogenes and Alexander the Great in Corinth. Alexander comes by on his large war horse and offers Diogenes, who is sitting on the side of the road basking in the sunlight, anything his heart desires, and Diogenes asks Alexander to move over, because he’s blocking the sun.
The Cynic was known for their look. They carried a staff and a wallet, which was really something to tie their few belongings into. They wore sandals and a tunic wrapped off of one shoulder.
You remember in the texts in Mark and Luke, where Jesus instructs his disciples to go from village to village offering healing and tells them to take nothing with them… no staff, no purse or wallet, no extra tunic and no sandals”? Well, some historians speculate that this was Jesus’ way of saying, the Cynics were pretty close in their philosophy, but they were more about self sufficiency - whereas the Kingdom of God is about interdependency. The Cynics were minimalists and they were certainly making a statement about Empire, but their statement was more insulated. So long as they had their daily bread and carried what they needed with them, they could have the gall to tell the victorious Alexander the Great to move along. The similar cynic philosophy that we find in Jesus takes a different turn. It asks for total vulnerability, not for total self sufficiency. The disciple’s surrendered state as they travel, heal, and eat with these over-worked, occupied peasant people, is paving the way for the Spirit of God to flow through them and heal.
Jesus takes the cynic philosophy goes a step further and tells them to keep going, not to stay in one place for too long. Most of us today read that simply as “don’t overstay your welcome” because, again, we’re all about self-sufficiency. But for Jesus, you’ll see him moving from place to place, away from where the crowds begin to gather, because he doesn’t want to turn these places of healing into places of brokerage. “For a mere paltry payment, you will be healed.”
Jesus was certainly interested in exchange, but it was not in the realm of dollars and cents. It was in the realm of mercy which has its roots in the word mercantile. He was about unblocking the flow of divine love that often gets forgotten either in an occupied people, and certainly in the occupiers.
In the gospel reading today, we see Jesus teaching this prayer that we’ve all prayed a million times. The Lord’s Prayer. And if we look at it and measure it up to this saying we’ve often taken as scripture, “God helps those who helps themselves”… this Lord’s prayer is in direct opposition to that statement.
So when Jesus starts the prayer, he calls out: Abba, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven.
If we’re ever at a loss for what the Kingdom and the will of God looks like on earth, for Christians, we look at the person of Jesus. For Jesus, it isn’t just the rich who get adequate health care, housing or water and food. He didn’t just heal the elite and he certainly doesn’t perform the fish and bread miracles for the well-fed and the wealthy. In fact, John Dominic Crossan’s research is showing us that Jesus performed these miracles of food sovereignty and abundance, in direct, nonviolent rebellion to the Roman occupied Sea of Galilee, which had been renamed Lake Tiberius, after Caeser Tiberius, where urban, commercial fisheries had overrun the peasant fishers, ie, some of whom were Jesus’ best friends.
Then Jesus says “give US this day OUR daily bread”, not “give ME this day My daily bread”. This is a prayer of balance and interdependency. It is trusting in the Source of all life even in the face of their Roman occupied world, where Rome would have them grovelling in scarcity.
Then, the prayer says “forgive us our trespasses or debts as we forgive”. The very earliest texts all say “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”, and that it could be interpreted quite literally. The farming and fishing peasants in Jesus’ world were overworked and overtaxed for their resources. Most of the archeological digs and studies of remains from that time and place indicate that a man lived on average to the age of 29-35 and that most of the bodies found were suffering from malnutrition when alive. These people had been forced into monoculture farming to serve the elite in urban centres. This was a brutally occupied place and time and the more the peasants could support each other by forgiving debt, and by sharing, the more likely they were to survive.
It reminds me of how the potlatch, or the potluck was outlawed, here on Turtle Island. The more an occupied people can be controlled from being interdependent with each other, and the more dependent on the occupier they can be, the easier they are to control. I’ll put it this way, if we’re looking for an example of what an occupied people look like in our time, we need not look outside of Canada. We all come from a heritage of our indigenous homeland being invaded by an outside power, and if we are Canadian white settlers, we also have the heritage of being the invader. Which reminds me of a quick story.
In the summer of 2010, I was living in Gimli, Manitoba and the closest church with a liturgical service was the Lutheran Church, so I found myself there most Sundays. The minister was a very clever, funny guy. The first words I heard him say were these: “ so before we start the morning off, I’d just like to say something… if you can’t bend your knees, don’t kneel! God loves your knees just as they are.” Then, he went on to encourage people to attend the Truth and Reconciliation gathering in Winnipeg and said “we Lutherans, we weren’t so blind as to play mercenary for the government by running residential schools… you wanna know why? We couldn’t speak good enough English! This was about assimilation!” So he was funny, but he was also very clever. I see so many of us, whether in or out of the church, avoiding our complicity in the story of Canada. Even right here by Riding Mountain National Park, we have folks decidedly not church going, who are pretty uncomfortable with mentioning the history of how indigenous people were forcibly removed to establish the national park.
That story leads me into the next line in the Lord’s prayer… lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil or from the Adversary.
If we’re thinking or feeling anything when we say this line, it is more often than not the default to think of individual temptations.
But let’s look at the temptation Jesus experienced in the desert where he was led by the Spirit after his initiation rite, his baptism in the Jordan. First, the temptation to turn the stones into bread, to break his fast. Then to throw himself from the top of the temple, to be caught by angels. And then being offered all the kingdoms of this world that had been handed over to Satan, or the Adversary. John Dominic Crossan has looked and looked at these texts, and he has come to believe at many different levels that the temptation Jesus is speaking about in the Lord’s prayer, is the temptation to overcome his oppressors through the use of violence. This is a direct quote of Crossan’s:
“Notice that, actually, the tempter never speaks of “creation” or “the world” or “the earth”, but of “all the kingdoms of of the world” along with their “glory” and “power”. That is the violent world of civilization - rather than the nonviolent world of creation. The tempter cannot offer to anyone the world that God so loved.”
Then Crossan goes on to say:
“What, then, is the difference in precise content between worshiping God and worshiping Satan? To obtain and possess the kingdoms of the world, with their power and glory, by violent injustice is to worship Satan. To obtain and possess the kingdom, the power and the glory by nonviolent justice is to worship God. The last and climactic temptation for Jesus is to use violence in establishing the kingdom of God on earth, and there-by to receive it as the kingdom of Satan. And so also for us.”
I would add, that there is also the temptation in believing in the lie of occupying Rome, that this system is the only kind of power there is. This has been the great sin of the whole church no matter what denomination, really, since the 3rd century. We have been more often than not, on the side of power, trade, oppression and colonization. It might be the greatest irony in the whole world’s history. And I am glad I can see that irony, or I couldn’t be a Christian anymore.
Because then look at what Jesus teaches us to pray next: for thine is the Kingdom, thine is the power, thine is the glory. Forever and ever.
This prayer is first, a prayer for an occupied people. Imagine the many prayers prayed by indigenous people as we Europeans pillaged their family web, Creator’s sacred land. And took their children. I don’t say this out of some contrived guilt trip… I say it because I think praying the Lord’s Prayer ought to instil in us, a deep compassion for what it it must have felt like… and for what it still feels like. This is not something we can easily sweep under the rug. We have to wrestle with it and we have to grieve it.
And it is second, a prayer for all of us who are tempted to believe the lie that we can be self sufficient and to believe the lie of scarcity, that our current culture of power is asking us to play along with. These two lies and the power-over others that is allowed through them, I believe, is why the world is so thrown out of balance.
After teaching the Lord’s prayer, look at the story Jesus goes on to tell. The person knocking at the other person’s door in the middle of the night, is asking for bread because they’re out of bread, and they have had a friend on a long journey arrive, hungry and tired. This story wouldn’t exist if the person on the long journey was too proud to knock on their friend’s door. And it wouldn’t exist if the host was too proud to ask the neighbour for help. In other words this is a story about interdependence. So unlike the saying that passes for scripture “God helps those who help themselves”, it appears as though this teaching is about how God is in and about interdependence, not independence.
Then Jesus goes on to say how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. And compares the man’s knocking on the door in the middle of the night, to our brash asking for the Holy Spirit. Again and again, this whole passage is about interdependency. Not about being independent or self sufficient. Asking for the Holy Spirit is not being independent because we are also taught that the very act of prayer is the Holy Spirit working in us, so even asking for the Holy Spirit, is really a coming to consciousness of the deep asking that has always been there. It is our true self, one with God, that is doing the asking deep down in there, where we can sense that holy longing in our hearts.
So what does this look like in community? What does this brash asking look like in practice? Why bother asking for the Holy Spirit in the first place? What does that even mean? If anyone has ever had one small glimpse of the oneness at the heart of all things, they have encountered the Holy Spirit. No one can experience the Holy Spirit and not see the interconnectedness of each other, and of all of life. No one can bear witness to the veil being lifted for just a moment, and not see that what is true is that there is enough. That living in scarcity and fear, is to be led into temptation… and scarcity and fear will never produce anything but division and hoarding, and more violence.
There is this now often overused saying of Einstein’s, that a problem can never be solved with the same thinking that created it… I think Jesus was practicing something very similar when he said, “lead us not into temptation” … that the use of violence can never beget the Kingdom of God.
What if praying thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, is trusting in enoughness? What happens when that is our footing, for the font of the Spirit to flow out from us, here… into this physical world?
May we never pray this prayer again, without remembering who it was, that taught us to pray it, and who also said, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.”
Let us sing in the melody of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us
Lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For thine is the Kingdom
the power and the glory
Forever and ever. Amen.
Firstly, welcome to all the Sunday Song newcomers! It has been a privilege to build a following around this weekly meditation this year!
I was preparing this letter to you yesterday, but kept finding myself unable to send, as describing a yet-to-be-created body of work is sort of like un-spinning a cocoon. But out of a very deep longing to include you and ask for your participation, I will try!
Here's the big announcement:
It has become clear to me that a collection of songs is trying to emerge, which I will record as an album this coming fall, and hopefully release near Christmas or early 2020. It will be the first full length album without spoken word that I have recorded in 4 years!
In order to make room for depth and attentiveness, I will be going on sabbatical from Sunday Song and Rumination from now to the beginning of September, so I can go deep into composing mode.
This week, especially for Pentecost Sunday, I will send along one last SSR (Sunday Song) until I pick it back up in September. I will also be sending a video announcement to get ready to fundraise for the project.
For now I will say that although the album has no title yet... it will be about remembering that the earth is our home. And a tie-in to that remembrance is working with images of -
- food sovereigntist
- wilderness mystic
- nonviolent anti-colonial
- abundance activist (the stamp indent itself, on the mined coin, is really all that belongs to Caesar, the fish do not belong to the commercial power of Tiberius, in a state of regenerative symbiosis, 1 + 1 always equals at least 3)
- dialoguer, shaped by and rooted in his tradition
- deeply embodied earth-dweller
And, as a Christian, I will be working with the above traits out of the belief that "God was pleased to dwell in him, in all God's fullness" and that, those traits are really some extraordinary telltale signs about who God is.
We live in a time in history that polarizes positions about where we live and have our breath. Unfettered, extractive capitalism and commodification (ie. seeing any and all profit making as moral) threatens the future of the whole planet... and it comes from an anthropocentrism and really, a geocentrism - that we are the centre of the universe.
In these times, it is very important to be genuinely humble and acknowledge how vast the cosmos is. Sometimes I wonder though, if our feigned acknowledgement of this vastness, is really a cloaked phobia of nature, and an excuse to stay within the walls of the city and academy, twittering at coffee shops and wine bars, about rural illiteracies.
In this polarized state, we tend to react to anthropocentrism by calling all 7 billion people on earth, a cancer. As someone who feels at home in wild places, to me, this is simply a progressive liberal version of "total depravity", and it often isn't genuine humility at all. In an attempt to remove the human from the top of the pyramid, most of us end up in a rootless, groundless, quasi-intergalactic, post modern dystopia, where having any hope is seen as a denial of climate crisis. That is not the path to a balanced ecosystem.
There is a "third way": that of exploring what it means to live as a part of the great Circle. In my own little way, being attentive to the heartbeat of God-in-the-Earth this summer, and composing/writing about it, is what feels right and good to do.
This album will dance within the context of recollecting a forgotten oneness that we share with the created earth.
Adamah means: "of the earth". Eve means: "to breathe" or "to live". As a symbolic combination, looking at them from a ternary perspective, there is more to that creation story than meets the eye.
Without this recollection, and with only an urban/academic perspective to guide a reshaping Christianity, we will just have a one-sided rudder. We need perspectives from outside the cities and the institutions, too. The world needs to reconnect to its indigenous heart now, more than ever. ALL of the contemplative traditions need it. I might even say - it is imperative.
I believe that Christ in evolution is attempting to reroute us into an actual incarnational state.
Without picking up the deep tap roots of our earth-based lineage, (mostly left behind as untrustworthy, by the first axial religions), we will continue to behave “alien” to this place that is our home. As Christians, if we continue to sing "this world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through", any attempt at removing the cliche that we have had a dismal response to the ecological crisis, will be... dismal. That ideology of "not being from here", is one main reason why we are in crisis in the first place. The hyper-focus on "Jesus ascending", has gotten us into very big trouble.
This is going to be a daring project that walks a fine edge. And I will probably get cut along the way. Maybe even by folks who have supported me in the past. It's a bit scary to be honest.
But I am asking for your support. Moral and financial. Please join on me on Patreon, because I will be building the budget from there (like a Kickstarter), along with a bit of seed money from a caring, anonymous patron. If you are Canadian, there is a way to support me and get a tax receipt. (Please email to ask for more details.) And if you know folks who would believe in this project, please forward this email to them and spread the word. You can also share this as a blog post from my website.
When composing and recording an album, artists need time, space, research resources, and funds to hire professional musicians and engineers who play music for their livelihood... it is how they feed their families.
All of my dear patron friends will hear the album first and will be receiving journal updates on the process throughout the summer. And as always, they will receive the album as a gift, prior to its release.
My hope for the outcome of this album is that people who listen to it, will be simultaneously overcome with relief, and, a depth of belonging. For it is this "belonging" that is a key element, for us to make peace with Mother Earth, and with our own dying. With the cycle of life. A sacred circle.
I want this project to dance with questions like:
- What is the difference between “wholesome” and “wholeness”?
- What is the difference between being “civilized” and being “connected”?
- What is the difference between "dying" and "destruction"?
- What is the difference between "wild" and "unfettered"?
- What is the difference between scarcity-based conservation and living in a regenerative, resilient font of generosity?
- How do we remember that eucharist and baptism and ashes rituals are elemental acts?
Thank-you to the hundreds of people who have emailed me or commented in response to the 40+ Sunday Song and Rumination posts I have written this year! Your input is so appreciated! Watch for updates this summer, as I will periodically send you a video or journal update on how things are going and get ready for a refreshed, invigorated Sunday Song and Rumination in September! The best way you can join me this summer though, is to join me on Patreon.!
The bread maker we got second hand is making its churning noise. Its a sourdough bread, but I have high ideals that I’ll be kneading with my own sweat.The rain patters on the tin roof of our barn home. I am sitting in our living room. Our wee ones are tucked in, and our soon to be one-year-old dog Lucy, who shares my birthday, is asleep on the mat at the door. Rows of starter trays with heirloom plants I planted weeks ago line the south facing windows, as I chomp at the bit to plant the garden. Here we have such a short growing season, but tomorrow is supposed to drop to -1, so I’ll hold off for another day or two. I’ll get the radishes in. Maybe the carrots. If I can incorporate my children into it, as I am home on the range, solo parenting this week.
We were out to visit the bees tonight. Our friend has his bees nestled in the perfect sheltered, South facing spot on this land that owns us and longs to take care of us.
It’s an idyllic enough picture. But layering up the design to have regenerative components is initially, a whole lot of work. And it wasn’t always this idyllic. And it won’t always be. It is a blink of an eye.
Tonight my three-year-old fell asleep as I was reading bedtime stories, so I was able to visit one-on-on with my five-year-old. It was a precious time. He told me that he thought the reason the boy who cried wolf “cried wolf” so many times, is because his parents didn’t have the The Boy Who Cried Wolf story yet to teach him with, because the boy was making the story as he went. My son’s legs are getting so long and I’m having a hard time lifting him these days. He was 21 inches long, like 3 seconds ago. God is in the moment. There will be no clinging. But lots of holding. And lots of letting go.
I watched the post-snow brown for what felt like an eternity. Now the perennial grasses shoot up inches per day. Its an old tale. Its a new tale. The ancients are but a wisp of time on the edge of creation. And yet, they are all here. Planted in this earth. They may be one with the cosmos, as we all are… gases… stardust… but the corporeal is interwoven with spirit, sown together, like true lovers. And so I feel the ancestors here, like seeds who died long ago, opening up, plunging out new life, to sway above us, letting us know that we are not so many rings old after all.
My littlest one helped me plant comfrey around the yearling fruit trees we planted last year. Pincherries. Hardy northern apple trees. Nankings. Currants. Saskatoons. We plunged the comfrey roots down and found worms and took delight in them. We have ticks too. My sister told me I could make a tea tree in a carrier oil solution and rub it through the kid’s hair. It’s working. No ticks at bath time tonight.
And I’m already making a herbal mixture for when the mosquitoes come after this rain.
We drink well water. It smells of manganese. The water has been tested and it is healthy, beautiful, clear water. Plus it has no chlorine. No chemicals. We once had young bed and breakfast guests arrive and turn around to drive back to the city, because they didn’t even want to bathe in the water. It didn’t smell aseptic enough. I could take them to places where there is no potable water if they really wanted to experience it. The new BNB experience… tour the boil water advisory regions, or better yet, walk for miles in 45 degree weather and haul your water back in a jug you yourself made out of clay.
According to the , the ironic number one problem with global warming, is refrigerator’s and air conditioner’s motors. We’re building a cold room this summer. But watch out, there might still be dirt on the potato, and it wasn’t wrapped in plastic, so it’s hard to get comfortable with that potato. (Don’t hear that as cynicism, I’m just trying on my quasi-best curmudgeonly Wendell Berry tone.)
Our copy of Rublev’s Trinity is in my periphery. It was a wedding present. We’ve carried it with us and mounted it ceremoniously in all the spaces we have lived. Our barn-to-home renovation was inspired by its colours. It has watched over us and participated in our lives. Bearing witness to my sometimes desperate motherhood tactics trying to find a balance of giving freedom and giving guidance. They have born witness to the raw beauty of relationship and moments of simple quietude. They have seen how I volley between my ego carrying the world’s problems, and being in a fleeting, but truly compassionate state.
This week’s song is the download my patrons on Patreon got today. I recorded it live on the piano my sister gave me as a “moving into the barn home” present. This version of it became more Trinitarian for me than the other versions, because I sing in multi-gendered pronouns. In other words, I sing it using trinitarian language. Or as Cynthia Bourgeault so perfectly puts it, “Christianity is a ternary swan in a binary duck pond.” Her book on the trinity was based on an essay she wrote called Why Feminizing the Holy Spirit Won’t Work and it is a fantastic read on the dynamism and spiralling, coiling or cork screw nature of the Trinity.
This song is for folks on pilgrimage. For folks who walk miles for their clean drinking water and have to eat potatoes that come from the dirt. It is for the water protectors.
May the vast thouness of God find a channel through this song, to open hearts, so we might cease to live out our whole existence in a paralyzed dystopia, as though we don’t belong here. We do. We’ve just forgotten that we do. It has been a long forgetting, but there are living trees, older than Roman roads. Somehow, in the lining of this roughshod history that strangely landed many of us in Sunday School rooms that smelled of coffee percolators and lovingly prepared pink egg salad finger sandwiches, there was and is, a greening mystery springing through, wherever openings occur.
It is ok to lay your burdens down. To grieve. To pray. To long. To be sorry.
“The balance of our world frequently is seen as a question of power. If I have more power and more knowledge, more capacity, then I can do more. And when we have power, we can very quickly push people down. I’m the one that knows and you don’t know, and I’m strong and I’m powerful, I have the knowledge. This is the history of humanity. And it is in the whole educational system, that we must educate people to become capable and to take their place in society. That has value, obviously. But it’s not quite the same thing as to educate people to relate, to listen, to help people to become themselves. The equilibrium that people with disabilities bring is precisely this equilibrium of the heart.”
- Jean Vanier, in conversation with Krista Tippet, (On Being)
“We’re all waiting to be met.”
- James Finley
The passing of Jean Vanier this week, made me relive some moments where I was truly struck at the heart by love. I’m talking, the big love that pulls at us and drops hints for how our own little story might connect with the Big Story.
I’ve been thinking about how disarming his teaching was. The strikingly gentle delivery, as well as the content, just got right down to the business of loving. I wonder if the combination of transforming out of his naval background and the friendship he experienced with his friends Raphael Simi and Phillipe Seux was the alchemy for such precision into the heart of God.
Reading Jean Vanier’s Drawn Into the Mystery of Jesus Through the Gospel of John, and Befriending the Stranger, were key in the early development of realizing that although my religion preached love, it was often not incredibly loving.
I remember weeping at the image Vanier described, of Jesus keeping himself lower than the woman at the well. And I remember beginning to understand the difference between “alms giving” and relationship. The difference between power over… and mutual connection.
It was about the same time (early 2000’s), where I began to study the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber’s most widely known book, I Thou.
Jean Vanier and Martin Buber’s writing, (and in particular, Jean Vanier’s very life), commenced my first conscious inklings as an adult, of the intrinsic subjectivity of the created world, and the love that incarnates it.
Lately, I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by how mean and patronizing and dystopian the social media world can be. It can be such a beautiful, connecting tool, but I often wonder if the very longing to be met, and to feel meaningful, that Jean Vanier intuited all of us long for, is not being experienced online. But instead, so many are being met with provocation, neurotic insistence, dramatic offended-ness, dramatic defended-ness, hopelessness, and sometimes straight up cruelty.
So it’s a simple question this week. How can we live one moment at a time in the coming few days, practicing vigilance, for where we might be met, and where we might meet others?
Sometimes, it is real, and true, that another person, an abusive person, isn’t safe for you to "meet". And that’s ok. But you can still sense that part in yourself, that wants to be met, and trust that that is really, how everyone feels, somewhere in there.
There isn’t one time when my children have hidden, that they didn’t want me to seek, that they didn’t want me to find. There isn't one time they didn't want my full attention, when they told me a story. It is tender and vulnerable, and what Jean Vanier did for us, is changed how we understood those words. If understood as “weak” or “less”, those words are demeaning. If understood in the way Jean Vanier understood them, they mean: our yearning for wholeness shining through.
We’re all like that deep down. We’re all waiting to be met.
There was a point in the last 3 weeks, where I really began to realize that social media has so much power for good, but also has the potential to be simply the ultimate way for us to work out our own neurosis. So, seeing this in myself, (that I often share things in a reactive state), I committed to not sharing a post on instagram or facebook (my main social media spaces), without first sitting in silence, in the hope that the energy of that sharing will not contribute to a spiral of violence or adolescent drama, but help raise awareness, to hold, and to give back to the great Mystery, the suffering of the world.
In the midst of this Eastertide vigil, has been the reality of Rachel Held Evans' medically induced coma and wondering as so many of us were, what the outcome of her medical situation would be. Sadly, very, very sadly, she died Saturday, May 4th, 2019, at the age of 37, leaving behind her young family.
I tucked my children in tonight, just gutted.
As the rest of us grieve the loss of this brilliant, Christian prophet, may those closest to her be protected from any imposed ownership. And... in particular, protected from any judgemental or "against" energy.
I shared my social media post out of silence today, about Rachel. A wave of grief and gratitude for her life is flooding my newsfeed, and what I have noticed most, is how many people named her as the author who used her privileged position to step aside and offer others a platform.
For me, what I've really appreciated about her, is how she found the words to guide so many sincerely hurting people, through the painful, unmooring process of spiritual metamorphosis. So much shame can accompany this process. It can be terrifying to admit we have been wounded by the religious culture of our upbringing.
It is one thing to preach. It is another thing to live what you preach. There was something in her giftedness for seeing the gem at the heart of her tradition, that challenged her to live those values.
So, this Sunday Song is to honour one of the great theologians of the ancient/renewing Christianity, Rachel Held Evans. May many of her words be on our lips in the years to come.
One phrase of hers that I will forever carry with me, is: "Jesus is how God feels toward us."
The Christianity she discovered through her own seeker's journey, is the kind that will live in the hearts of people, whether there is one church building left standing. It is the kind that was whispered in the mines of Roman occupied Britain in 1st century AD: that the Christ mystery is the great equalizer of slaves and Caesars. Raising what has been made low, and making low what has been elevated. The Christianity that in its marrow, knows "inclusive" and "affirming" doesn't even go far enough... because many in the LGBTQ2 community have a deeply moving, precious teaching voice that needs to be heard in the church. The Christianity that recognizes its own horrific stain(s) on history, and particularly acknowledges that people of color have very integral, important things to say, yes, to the white community, and that it is necessary for those voices to be heard. The Christianity that sees how the innate fire in the belly for teaching and preaching can be born in any kind of person... women included... and that Sophia may be the very fire of that fire.
I have chanted Let This Mind Be in You in front of many audiences. Many have received it very warmly. But I've been amazed at how many people have told me they think it is irreverent.
The irony is that the chant merely quotes Philippians 2:5, which is the beginning of one of the great Christological hymns, harkening to the self-emptying nature of the incarnate Christ.
Well done, good and faithful servant. Rachel Held Evans, in many, very tangible ways, you lived this verse:
Let this mind be in you
Which was also in Christ Jesus
I remember attending a church as a 19-year-old, where I sang on one of the worship teams. I didn’t fit in very well, (a bit of a hippie, really). It called itself a “seeker church” as many churches do, but even then, I found something interesting about the description. Namely, that the folks on the teams and many of the core attendees, saw themselves less as seekers, and more as space holders for a place in which seekers might find.
For my part, maybe why I didn’t fit in very well, is because deep down, I was a seeker, through and through.
Prior to that church experience, I co-formed a church with some friends, called The Church of the Wayward Brethren. The liturgy consisted of passing a bottle around on the beach of our local lake, and read the Bible. We thought we were pretty subversive.
Looking back, what unfolds in my memory is a sequence of trial and error attempts at going deeper without ever looking like I didn’t have the answer.
Then, eventually, came the “lucky dark”. And everything changed. I began to give myself permission to openly seek for Divine revelation. Which led me to the Christian mystics, which led me to practices within that lineage, like lectio divina, centering prayer, chanting the Psalms, walking with awareness of my foot arches, connecting with the earth.
Some of my most beloved teachers are so effective, because they have made it their life’s work to seek. And they aren’t seeking to be rebellious and irresolute for the sake of it. What they are doing is holding vigil for where resonance and the thrumming of the deep, is quivering, in no matter how unlikely a place.
For what might be seen, if we have eyes to see
Tasted, if we have tongues to taste.
Heard, if we have ears to hear.
Felt, if we are embodied enough for our arm hairs to bristle.
When Noel Keating approached me about recording a children's meditation album with him, he sent me his book, Meditation With Children. When I read the book, I was initially and utterly taken in by two things. First, that the many children introduced to centering prayer meditation authentically discover an interiority to themselves that is very mysterious and rather remarkable. Second, that Noel Keating is the type of grown-up who seeks… for those places or people who might reveal deeper revelations, that help us long for the great Mystery to come very near to us.
In Noel’s book, he includes the quote by Madeline Simon, that children are “born contemplatives”.
Her observation not only really struck me as something so very true, but made me see my children and other children I know, and my own inner-child, as little teachers, even as I must be the grown-up, and guide and care for them.
Yesterday, the Meditation With Children album launched worldwide on my website, so I’ve been pondering what is so resonant about the project, for me. I think it is that the album was made with a seeker’s vigilance, inspired by a book that was written by someone with a seeker’s heart, who sensed in the children that they too have seeker's hearts. And that although the album is a good resource for children, it also has something to teach grown-ups who are open to learning and trusting that revelations emerge out of unexpected places. And that meditation was the catalyst, and is for everyone.
The song for this Sunday, is Hope Beyond all Hope, from the new album, with new lyrics I wrote for the children.
I'm looking at the evening sky
Stars twinkle secrets through the night
This whole universe, (and you, and I)
Were born to breathe the breath of God
I've been seeing quite a number of folks speaking up about how it seems that the more actually loving we make God, the more heretical we sound.
It's really true.
As most of you know, my song The Heart of God did not arrive easily.
I wrote and wrote about the darkness and struggled to write about hope and resurrection for years. Partly because I was working out God's presence in this suffering world.
Sometimes I think the very reason there is so much suffering is because we're all afraid of a Deity who would order eternal suffering.
Our whole life is made up of building walls because we can't trust that intimacy could ever be safe. I just knew there was a pearl hidden inside Christianity, waiting to be mined and held to the light. It's why I could never just leave,
Easter Sunday has transformed into a very safe, beautiful place to reside. With almost none of the triumphant fireworks that once blazed across my guilt-ridden/washed-but-still-fear-ridden soul.
It is a day of infinite intimacy. An intertwined consummation. A feast that tastes flavours with aliveness and vigour.
As I write this, I have just found out about the Easter morning bombings of the churches in Sri Lanka... I am so sad from all the violence. Sitting in the great Silence, before I pray for the right words to share. May all the wise leaders of this world tap root into the Ancient Peace that showed itself in Jesus, as they begin to respond.
"Wisdom!", cries the Dawn Deacon, but we do not attend. (Merton)
"He was just sitting there- surrounded by the darkest, deepest, most alienated, most constricted states of pained consciousness; sitting, if we can imagine it, among all those mirroring faces of the collective false self that we encountered earlier in the crucifixion narrative: the anguish of Judas, the indecision of Pilate, the cowardice of Peter, the sanctimony of the Pharisees; sitting there in the midst of all this darkness, not judging, not fixing, just letting it be in love. And in so doing, he was allowing love to go deeper, pressing all the way to the innermost ground out of which the opposites arise, and holding that to the light."
- Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus
"Unless a grain of what falls into the earth, and dies. It remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
- Jesus of Nazareth, (and an initiation ritual for the Asia Minor Mystery religions)
Holy Saturday has been a strange, ominous day for most of my life. That blank hour after the funeral service and luncheon has ended and the last plate that held sandwiches just an hour ago, is put back in the cupboard. There is an emptiness and a strange relief, and perhaps a dread that all at once, we realize life will never be the same, but it will keep going anyway.
As a child, this blankness, was sort of how I used to see Holy Saturday. And maybe feeling a sort of contrived, sickly guilt and shame... attempting to sustain a longer note of conjured compunction that God needed Jesus to die for me.
But for me, Holy Saturday has recently changed into one of the most powerful days of the liturgical year.
Some of the great works that have awakened Holy Saturday in my imagination, is Cynthia Bourgeault's work on the Harrowing of Hell, in her books The Wisdom Jesus and The Meaning of Mary Magdalene. What she has called "The Vigil of the Heart of the Earth" – when Jesus descended into the heart of the earth, which later became translated as 'hell'. Her above quote is from the Wisdom Jesus, and she expands this in The Meaning of Mary Magdalene in a most remarkable way, implying that Mary accompanied him in the imaginal realm.
For some reason, whenever I read Cynthia's most cosmic, metaphysical writings, I feel much closer, even unified, with the earth, much more embodied, and more present here on this planet, ready to participate in the grounded dance of growing food and embracing my beloveds with vigor and joy. I don't know if that is her intention, but the teaching just does that for me.
I wrote this song Fear Not, Adamah, of the Earth for Advent... but if you look at it closely, it is also a direct commentary on Holy Saturday. A day which has begun to smell pungent and life-filled for me... like Mother Earth herself.
John Dominica Crossan's beautiful Easter videos have been helping to inform the way I "do Easter" this year. The new book he wrote with his wife Sarah, on the Eastern interpretation of the resurrection is a GAME CHANGER. In the Eastern tradition's iconic depictions of the Harrowing of Hell, you see Jesus holding both the hand of Eve and Adam. It is a collective (over individual) resurrection of past, present and future... because it happens in the timeless realm. To marry these images with Cynthia's gritty words of Jesus sitting as total and pure love, deepening love far beyond judgement and solutions, certainly brings some vitality back into Holy Saturday.
In this song, I used the name Adamah simply because I see us all as "of the earth" which is what the name Adam means. And the word "human", comes from the word "humus". In that light, the term "human being" really looks more like "incarnate soil". And now that we know a healthy gut microbiome looks almost identical to a microscopic photo of of healthy humus, it brings so much to life for me, on this day, when Jesus descended to hold vigil in the heart of the earth.
Born of flesh in that stable is a sign
And he will spread his arms to embody all of life
And sink down, down in the soil
And died, died like a seed
To show love's been in every vein
That ever flowed....
Rivers are veins. Roots are veins. We are a part of this intricate network of love here on this planet.
Really, Holy Saturday should be another "Earth Day" for all Christians. A time to commit and reorient ourselves to the health of top soil (reversing desertification), to the health of the waters, the air and all of life. To reconsider our stance on the urgency of an economy of destruction, over the urgency of Mother Earth's very survival and placing value in the arts and beauty. It is a day to honour the earth-based wisdom of our indigenous ancestors, who held a very special intuition about "the heart of the earth". It is a time to sit with Jesus, in that heart, beyond the bonds of our egos, dying as seeds, to bear much fruit.
I recently re-recorded the vocals for this song, to change out a couple of lyrics and sing with intentions for garden growing and participating in stepping more consciously into the great circle of life.
Listen to that particular recording right here:
Sustained in All Things may have been the hardest song I've ever recorded. But here's the thing. The reality of this recording is that I was in my 8th month of my 2nd pregnancy, feeling incredibly uncomfortable, and unable to sleep at night for various reasons. And my engineer was also dying of cancer at the time of this recording. A beautiful soul, with such a deep love for music.
James Finley, whose words are the lyrics to this chant, did not come to these words lightly. Suffering trauma as a child, he realized that somehow that trauma happened. And at first glance, to suggest there is benevolence at the heart of this world, amidst such abuse and injustice, is enough cause for us to die of cynicism.
This week, as Notre Dame cathedral burned, I wrestled with my feelings on the matter. At first, I thought, of course there will be rich people coming to the aid of this historic landmark. And then, I thought, how do I feel about that? For instance... I totally loved Gretta Thunberg's response and in many ways agree with her. I just wish we could cut the ugliness in the world first, and realize there's room for music, art, literature and beautiful buildings.
I have been pondering in my heart the life of Jesus over this season of Lent. In particular, looking through the lens of John Dominic Crossan's work, on Jesus' move to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He moved at the same point when in 20 CE, Herod Antipas built his city Tiberias, and renamed the Sea of Galilee, "Lake Tiberias". In this video, John Dominic Crossan shows the peasant fishing villages along the shores of the lake as being the home towns of most of Jesus disciples, including Mary Magdalene. He suggests that part of Jesus' move there was a food sovereignty movement over and against the commercial fishing power of the new city of Tiberias. This commercial trading power was destroying the peasant's way of life. Now, think of the story of the fishes and the bread and feeding all the people in an act of abundance. Think of the idea of being "fishers of people", in other words, to tell them of their inherent, abundant worth.
Here is where this chant Sustained in All Things gets even trickier. On the one hand, I want to be VERY clear, that we should not go seeking trauma in order to be spiritual. We cannot construct our own descent (but we can sure try). However, amidst the trials that life brings us, sometimes because we choose to stand non-violently in the way of injustice, in that context, what is it to realize that there is an endless source of love at the very root of who we are?
I am still torn about the wealthy coming to the aid of Notre Dame so very quickly. But I can't be either/or about it. I know in many ways, it represents collusion with Empire. But in many other ways, it is an example of something beautiful. When one annual military budget could end the fossil fuel age, empower all people the world over to feed themselves sustainably, and restore all the sacred architecture that has been damaged by fire or violence across the world, it is hard to not step into a deeper dream of abundance and out of this nightmare of scarcity. The nightmare of scarcity is why the sex slavery trade, the arms trade, and anti-aging are what "1st world" people spend most money on. The nightmare of scarcity is why arts funding, good, true, beautiful design, and libraries are always cut first... judged for being extraneous.
The dream of abundance is the dream that Jesus stepped into on this Good Friday. And sharing this dream of abundance is why he was executed. Trusting that what is true, is that there is more life than there is destruction. That love is more powerful than death ever will be. And that death, when placed into the cycle of life and renewal, can be remarkably abundant and generative.
So, it's hard teaching. But something I'll be pondering today.
"God protects us from nothing, but unexplainably sustains us in all things."
- James Finley, trauma survivor, depth psychologist, contemplative teacher, friend
Tonight, as I was tucking my children into their beds, I told them that tomorrow is Palm Sunday. My 5-year- old asked me if Palm Sunday was related to Palm Desert, because he was at the Palm Desert zoo once, and traces the roads to Palm Desert, on his atlas, with his finger.
I told them that Palm Sunday and Palm Desert both had Palm tree branches (and decided not to say anything about golf, or washed up Hollywood actors).
Then I told them that Palm Sunday was about the story when Jesus rides the donkey along the road as people laid Palm branches down on the road and sang “hosannah in the highest!”
But then I said, Jesus chose a little donkey to ride, so that all the people who weren’t as big or strong could see that Jesus knows everyone is important, no matter how big they are.
Our kids are really into the story of King Arthur, and how he pulled the sword from the stone when he was a little boy, even when all the big muscle men couldn’t do it. So my 5-year-old said, “Jesus riding the donkey and not a big, big horse is sort of like when Arthur pulled the sword from the stone, and a miracle happened right there in London, that a little boy nobody saw, and not the big guys, was the king.”
Then he said, “Sometimes it might be, like, a person who gets to drive a wheelchair who’s king or queen. Or like someone who’s really, really, really old. Or like a little girl could pull the sword from the stone, too. Not just all the big grown up ladies with long hair.”
Um… move over Alana. I’ll just let my son write the reflection this week.
In the spirit of those innocent words, I am going to share another song from the Meditation With Children album. This one is called Metanoia. Which is often translated as “repent”. But really, it means to “move into the larger mind”.
The line “move beyond what you first see” was inspired by the definition of the word "respect". Re-spect. To look twice. Which feels fitting for my son’s expanding awareness of seeing worth, everywhere.
As Richard Rohr so simply puts it: “how we see is what we see”. If we’re looking through eyes controlled by a mind that is disconnected from our heart, we begin to see only certain types of humans and other-than-humans, as having value. And we certainly fail to innovate in the direction of abundance and life.
A blessed Palm Sunday to you. With a special thanks to children’s imaginations, everywhere.
May we see abundantly.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on an aspiring permaculture farm on the Canadian prairies.